Oscars and the anti-aging effect of beauty and success
Winning an Academy Award brings more than fame: Oscar winners live longer. Another interesting fact is that attractive people also have longer lives. With 85-year old director Clint Eastwood in the running this year with American Sniper, I got to wondering if the same effect applies with people who have plastic surgery to look younger (recall Dirty Harry’s facelift for Bridges of Madison County). Hollywood has a conflicted relationship with plastic surgery, but there’s no denying that the benefits of attractiveness and success are linked.
Oscar winners outlive non-winners by an average of 3.5 years, though the reasons for this remain a matter of speculation. Social status, for example, has long been known to be linked to health, but mostly it is poorer health at the bottom of the social ladder that skews the average. The fact that Academy Award winners live longer suggests that the pattern holds true at the top end of the scale too. One theory that has been suggested has to do with behavioral and psychological factors, in that highly successful people have others around them with a vested interest in their well-being. It creates expectations to live up to, and healthier lifestyle choices may be the result.
The beauty effect on longevity is a bit harder to grasp, but well documented. In a Danish study published a few years ago, researchers compared nearly 2 thousand sets of twins over age 70, with independent examiners rating their apparent age and attractiveness from photographs. Additionally, cognitive testing was done along with lab tests to determine chromosomal telomere length (a marker of aging on your DNA). During a 7-year follow-up, the researchers found that younger looking people had a higher level of mental function, healthier telomeres, and lived longer. Of course it wasn’t the fact that they looked young that made them physiologically younger than their more rapidly aging twin, more likely the other way around.
A study I would like to see is whether facelift patients live longer than their “gracefully aging” counterparts. My hunch is that there would be some benefit, not because of an intrinsic anti-aging effect on our cells, but because it signifies an investment in one’s self. People want to look as young as they feel. Acting your age is fine when you’re a child, but acting the age you feel like you are is the trick later in life. Having a little work done to look the part can’t hurt.
"If they say, 'I don't like your movie,' it's kind of like saying, 'I didn't like your life.' And then they say, 'By the way, it was a little too long.'"
- Cameron Crowe, best original screenplay winner for the semi-autobiographical Almost Famous
 Kaare Christensen, Mikael Thinggaard, Matt McGue, Helle Rexbye, Jacob v B Hjelmborg, Abraham Aviv, David Gunn, Frans van der Ouderaa, James W Vaupel. “Perceived age as clinically useful biomarker of ageing: cohort study.” BMJ2009;339:b5262.